What is witchcraft? The definition, types and history.


Brooms, cauldrons and pointy hats often come to mind when someone says the word “witch”. Around Halloween and spooky seasonfamous people and specific imagery surfaces when witches are mentioned.

From the Wicked Witch of the West to the Sanderson Sisters of “Hocus Pocus,” women using magic for evil (and in some cases, good) has shaped the cultural understanding of the craft. But these, among other stereotypes, are far from the truth for real-life practitioners.

Here is an analysis of the history of witchcraft and an answer to the age-old question: “Are witches real?”

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What is witchcraft?

Witchcraft is a nebulous term and difficult to define distinctly as it is open to interpretation depending on the practitioner or researcher.

As a practice, witchcraft dates back to the tenth century. However, it rose to prominence as a Renaissance phenomenon around the 15th century, said Fabrizio Conti, Ph.D., a historian and senior lecturer in history at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy.

“We can define witchcraft as a series of beliefs that have been brought together by intellectual means,” he said.

According to Conti, historical interpretations of witchcraft depend on certain scholars. For example, some believe that all witchcraft shares the same elements and beliefs everywhere. However, others take a similar approach to historian Richard Kieckhefer, who stated that some witchcraft mythologies are found in specific geographic locations and not others, defining witchcraft as more individual, cultural and regional.

“We may have a shadow degree of differences,” Conti said. “In northern Italy, for example, you have, according to Kieckhefer, different mythologies of witchcraft: Umbrian-type witchcraft, central Italian-type witchcraft, French witchcraft (type of witchcraft) and so on. ”

Also, witchcraft is often only associated with black or black magic, but it is not. Not all practitioners of witchcraft use it with “bad” intentions. In fact, most practices are benign and often used as a form of empowerment.

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Who made witchcraft a crime?

Negative images of witches within Western society emerged when religious leaders, particularly Dominican inquisitorstook a skeptical approach to witchcraft, thus beginning “the process of demonization”, Conti said.

In the fifteenth century, the “Malleus Maleficarum,” translated as “The Hammer of Witches”, by Heinrich Kramer popularized the idea that witchcraft is the performance of evil deeds and spells, especially against men.

The first visual of witches flying on broomsticks has appeared “The Ladies Champion”, which depicted two women, one riding a broom and the other riding a stick. These women were “Waldensians” who were later accused by the Church of practicing witchcraft and holding illicit Sabbath celebrations.

From there, condemnation of witches continued to grow as witchcraft became a heretical crime. The “Malleus Maleficarum” has sparked witch hunts and lawsuits for centuries in Europe, codifying folklore in effect.

Additionally, gender has played an important role in forming stereotypes of witchcraft. Religious clerics portrayed that only women could be witches. These men saw women as weaker, thus perpetuating misogynistic ideals.

“It was a religious intellectual tradition claiming that women were especially prone to carry out Satan’s death wishes,” Conti said. “They were considered weak: weak in mind, weak in their own behavior, weak in their own body, limbs, etc.

At the time, men were considered smarter and smarter, able to resist so-called demonic temptations that women could not. Accordingly, even the crime of heresy was gendered. Heresy is a doctrinal and theological component that means contradicting religious beliefs. Generally, men were accused of being heretics, but not sorcerers.

“To become a heretic, you have to be smarter,” Conti said. “On the contrary, to become a witch, (you could be) a simple woman from a village scattered in the middle of nowhere.”

In the United States, these same principles applied to the defamation of witchcraft during the salem witch trials which occurred between 1692 and 1693. Over 200 people were accused of practicing “devil magic” and 20 were sentenced to execution.

At the Salem witch trials, more than 200 people were accused of practicing

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Are witches real?

Yes, witches are real and they are no different from anyone else.

“Witches are your neighbors,” said Jason Mankey, author and Wiccan-Witch. “And more and more of them are becoming your neighbors as we’re in the middle of this witch moment right now.”

As of 2021, the number of Americans who identify with Wicca or paganism has increased over the past two decades with about 1.5 million witches in the United States

For Pam Grossman, author of “Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power”, witchcraft is a spiritual and creative practice of personal change and change in the world. Grossman had been interested in magic, mythology, and fairy tales since childhood, and with age his connection deepened.

“I often say that most people come out of their magical phase, and I just grew deeper into mine,” she said.

Each person’s experience with witchcraft is different. In its current state, there are many types of sorcery, ranging from kitchen sorcery and green sorcery to crystal sorcery and cosmic sorcery.

“What attracts people often defines the type of witchcraft they practice,” Mankey said. “If you love herbs and enjoy playing in your garden, you might identify as a green witch. If you enjoy cooking and find magic in food and drink, you might identify as a green witch. kitchen.”

Witchcraft can also be a spiritual or religious practice. For example, some sectors of witchcraft, such as wiccacentered on modernized pagan traditions and beliefs.

“Paganism is a spiritual path that honors the divinity of nature and the cycles of the seasons, the cycles of the body,” Grossman said. “For me, celebrating pagan holidays has helped me be more in tune with nature.”

This includes Halloween, or in the pagan community, “Her hand.” It is considered the time when the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds is thinnest. “So this is a time to honor our ancestors and connect with the spirit world,” Grossman said.

Additionally, magic and witchcraft are an opportunity for people to take control of their own situation, Mankey said.

“Over the past six years, for a lot of us, things have been a bit upside down,” he said. “Magic and sorcery makes it feel like you have control over this situation and what happens in the world.”

For Emily Ramirez, Green Witch and Kitchen Witch, the practice gave her a sense of freedom.

“Witchcraft for me is empowerment and attunement with the divine,” she said. “I was able to find strength and courage.”

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How to become a witch

Anyone can be a witch. Witches can be of any background, identity, or gender.

“I don’t think there are any barriers to being a witch,” Mankey said. “If you say you’re a witch, I think you’re a witch.”

There are no specific tools you need to become a witch. Practitioners can choose what to use, be it candles and crystals or tarot cards.

Grossman uses altars to interact with the physical realm to elevate his practice. She also uses herbalism and plants, as well as talismans and amulets to bring protective energy.

Ramirez said one of the most amazing things about witchcraft is its self-direction. “There is no wrong path. There is no wrong decision,” she said. “You do what makes you feel good and that’s the job; you’re the one doing it.”

To be a witch is to use power and intuition from within to improve yourself and those around you.

“Witchcraft is also an incredibly creative act, and the more personal one becomes with their practice, the more powerful the results,” Grossman said. “There’s an artistic fullness to it. There’s a playfulness to it. There’s a joy to it, and I think we all need more of each of those things in our lives.”

“There are a lot of people who like to put up barriers when it comes to practicing witchcraft. I’m not one of them,” Mankey said. “If this calls to you, educate yourself, embrace it, seek it out, and most importantly, start doing it.”

There are no specific tools you need to become a witch.  Practitioners can choose what to use, be it candles and crystals or tarot cards.

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Misconceptions about witchcraft

There are still many misconceptions and stereotypes about witchcraft. Namely, people believe that all modern witchcraft is associated with the devil. But this is not the case. Mankey said early modern witches drifted away from this idea altogether.

There’s also the general misconception that witchcraft is related to anything demonic, Ramirez said.

“The most obvious is simply this association of witchcraft with evil,” Grossman said. “I often say that darkness is not evil. Witchcraft honors shadow and light; it honors life and death.”

As for the stereotype of witches dressed in black, with green skin and warty noses, that is not the reality of modern witches either.

“It all really came from ‘Wizard of Oz’ in 1939,” Mankey said. “There’s a direct line between the ‘Wizard of Oz’ and that Halloween witch stereotype.”


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